Simplifying--Please Go to my Xanga Blog

In an effort to simplify my life, especially now that Xanga allows non-registered users to comment on posts, and considering I don't get many comments on this blog, I am going to be posting only on my Xanga blog from now on. Please visit me there!




Why I Believe, Part 1 of Infinity

First, let me say that I have blocked my first real user on Xanga (my other blog with the same content, where I actually get comments). Once someone decides that they get to question whether or not I am a Christian, and to throw out spiritually arrogant attacks, they are nixed. Feel free to read the comments on my last post there to see what I mean. At first I was going to respond, and to say that doubting is not antithetical to faith (and to point out the bitter, pointed examples of doubt and frustration with God in our very own Bible; he even asked me to "read the psalms" to learn about God's love; well, there are several psalms expressing deep despair and lack of hope, and I had to stop myself from rushing to quote them all to validate my point)...but I really would rather not encourage this line of conversation--ie, let's fight and prove the other one wrong, etc. When argument (esp. of such a personal nature) is done between strangers, and not in the context of a relationship of trust and love, very little good can come out of it. I choose out of that.

Now, onto the day's topic. Heather asked me a question on my last entry (Rachel, you asked me something too, which I will get to in a later post...I need to think about it more), and I'd like to offer a very meager, unsatisfying, response-in-progress to why I believe God is active in the world. She asked:

Um, can I ask, why? What were your reasons for believing God to be 'in action'? I kept waiting for you to write about it in the post, but then realized this was more just being thankful for the opportunity, but I'm curious about the specifics.

Thanks for the question, it made me think further. Unfortunately, my answer will probably be unsatisfactory (to you, and probably to me also). I feel like it's one of those questions like, "Why do you love your husband?" I mean, you could give some reasons...but at the end of the day, it's not easily quantifiable and able to be articulated. That said, I will throw a few things out there.

1) Structural examples of ways people are moved by God to love others in the world. I look around the world, especially poorer countries, and notice that a lot (I would say the vast majority, but I don't have actual statistics) of the hospitals, schools for women, etc. were started by churches or missionaries or Christian groups. Say what you will about the failings of Christians (and I would agree with them), there is no denying the ways hundreds of thousands of people have been moved to work for justice and to care for others around the world. In an age of such selfishness, I do find this to be miraculous, and the work of God.
2) Same as number 1, but on a personal/relational level. I am amazed sometimes at the love I see in others, and in myself. When I see this love, I see God's work.
3) My own experiences relating to God. You know, like feeling God's presence, hearing God say something, feeling God softening my heart and transforming me, that kind of stuff.
4) Faith. This is the one that plays a big part, and is probably the least satisfying of an answer. Since I don't feel like I conjure it up, it's just something that's there (at least most of the time).

Anyway, that's as good an answer as I can come up with right now. I have a feeling this question will be asked and reanswered very many more times throughout my life.

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Of Mice and Atheists

I have found it to be an oddly faith-building experience lately to talk heatedly about God with an Atheist. It has been a refreshing and much needed change of pace to be on the side of wanting to lift up the beauty and good of the Church, and of God, rather than being the one to say all the ways we Christians are not being the church Jesus calls us to be. See, it forces me to reach down deep into my guts and find those reasons why, in the face of so much crap and disappointment and pervasive brokenness (communally and individually), I choose to remain a Christian and to remain committed to my faith in Jesus and desire to follow him.

Over the weekend I was talking to a few friends about why we think people should become Christians. My set-up was this: let's say there's no Hell--and the main impetus for wanting someone to be a Christian could not be that you wanted to save their soul from eternal torment. If you take that away, what would you tell them? Maybe it was the group I was with, all of us who are in a place of some real struggle right now, but it seriously wasn't easy to come up with reasons. Looking around, and realizing the real suffering going on in each of our lives at that moment, none of us had it in us to think that being a Christian really made your life any happier or less filled with sorrow and disappointment. Honestly (and maybe this is a post for another time), I often think being a Christian actually increases suffering (especially certain types), rather than decreasing it. Not that God should be about making us feel joyful and fulfilled all the time...but if all the knowledge that we are loved and that God is with us exists just as an abstract concept, and not in our guts and feelings, then it's sometimes hard to see the point. I know that's where faith comes in; but there are those times when it's hard to know that being a Christian is really worth it.

So after feeling like a total apostate, realizing I couldn't think of anything I could say to someone to make them think being a Christian sounds appealing...let's just say it forces me out of my shell to talk with an Atheist (who is combative, though mostly respectful) and to say why I do think God is real and important and at work in the world. And it's funny, because he could say the same thing I've said about God before (for example, pointing out that the world is so messed up and that if there was a God, God should really be intervening more and not letting so many people suffer), but it's so different coming from the lips of someone who mocks God than from someone who worships God. I take God to task plenty. But hearing someone else do it--someone who doesn't love and revere God, well, it just forces me to think about and articulate the reasons that in the face of what appears to be God's inaction, I still firmly believe God is in action. It is good to dig into and rediscover that part of myself. It is full, it is beautiful, and it has been neglected.

I am thankful for my Atheist friend.

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Just Some Thoughts

Here are a few of the things rolling around in my head.

1) A friend of mine and I were discussing feminism, especially in the context of dating (specifically, of dating Christian men, as feminist Christian women). She mentioned that she often has people say something like this to her: "You're too pretty to be a feminist!" or "But you don't really need to be a feminist, you're attractive." I am not sure I completely get where this sentiment is coming from...but I'm pretty sure that the place it's coming from proves that there is a great great need for feminism. God help us.

2) I am typically pretty cool with people dissing Christianity. I mean, let's be honest, within the church, and the ways we Christians can be such total morons, well...it just does warrant criticalness and frustration pretty often. But I noticed something interesting in myself lately--that I'm cool with Christians dissing Christianity, and I'm also cool with people who were raised in the church but were hurt and disappointed and disillusioned questioning and expressing anger at the church...BUT, lately I've had a couple of people who are not Christians dissing Christianity to me, and I actually found myself becoming quite defensive. I didn't really act defensive, but internally I felt protective and fierce. I think it's something like that principle about how I can talk smack about my family all I want, but if somebody outside the family does...that's trouble. I'm not saying I need to defend or protect Christianity, it's done its thing for 2000 years independent of my protection; but, I just found it interesting that I did feel protective, y'know?

3) Another friend and I were recently talking about how to meet men (I swear, I do talk to my friends about things other than dating and men). And I realized I just hate that whole mentality of always putting yourself out there no matter where you are--and just trying to meet men all the f-ing time. When I get into that mindset, and I'm "on the prowl" everywhere I go, then every time I go somewhere and don't meet a man (which is the vast majority of the time) I feel like a failure. And I don't like feeling like I've failed just because I went grocery shopping, or to the library, or to a coffee shop, or to a party, and didn't meet a man I wanted to go on a date with. I much prefer life when I am not "on the prowl."

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Anger and What is Wrong in the World

I had a conversation with a friend this afternoon (and I use the term "conversation" loosely...it was mostly a diatribe from him, with me throwing in the occasional question). It's exhausting to listen to the story a person's anger and frustration with the world and confusion about how to exist in a system that is set up and run by people who are totally out of touch with what it means to be a laborer and to really build the world. He was angry, and he has a right to be.

And I started thinking about my own anger toward this world. Actually, what I really started realizing was that I am not feeling all that angry at the world these days. But I don't think that's a good thing. As any of you who have cried out with rage in the midst of injustice or mistreatment or seeing some unnecessary suffering of humanity, seeing the ways the structure of our culture is to blame for the hardship and day-to-day struggles of millions of people...many of you know there really is a need for anger. The thing is though, being angry all the time is so tiring. It's hard to always fight against the grain. It's much easier just to fit in with the way the world is--to assimilate to some of the ladder climbing, and to just kind of go with the flow from time to time...and to just put out of your mind that you are kind of complicitly supporting and engaging in the dominant system of oppression.

Especially for someone like me--who in some ways benefits from the way our culture is. I think fast, I'm good at school, I grew up in the dominant (white) culture, and I'm articulate. I have the potential to climb pretty high up on the ladder of status in our society (though my gender, physical appearance, and total inability to bullshit people partly limits how high I'd be able to climb). Sometimes complacency can come easy; especially because anger is so draining. And with complacency comes lack of motivation to create change. So I can see why the power structures in the world would love complacency. With anger can come impetus to start a revolution that would dismantle parts of society; in some ways, I think it's a necessary step when wanting to dismantle a totally f-ed up system. So, be angry people. Be very angry. And then, go do something about it.

I'm finishing up a play by T.S. Eliot called The Cocktail Party...and a quotation from it struck me, as I was considering all these issues. It is a line given to the character Celia:

I first must tell you
That I should really like to think there's something wrong with me --
Because, if there isn't, then there's something wrong,
Or at least, very different from what seemed to be,
With the world itself--and that's much more frightening!
That would be terrible. So I'd rather believe
There is something wrong with me, that could be put right.
I'd do anything you told me, to get back to normality.

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The Literary Life

I was looking through the music of John Denver on emusic the other day (don't be a cynic, his voice melts me--I swear, if a guy sweetly and sincerely sang "Annie's Song" to me I think I would fall instantly in love). And I remembered that when I was born (on Christmas Eve) my mom was watching the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Special in her hospital bed. So I started thinking about how I had a special connection to that soundtrack, and to the music of John Denver, since it was one of the first things I heard when I came onto the earth's scene.

And I thought about a lot of other things in my life--metaphors that I have seen in my story, and that I have used to make sense of my life and to bring texture to my narrative. Like, I treat certain events or facts about my life in a very character-driven literary sense--and then I think about them, and digest them, and see how they fit in and help me make sense of my story and identity. There really isn't any difference (other than the level of investment) in how I look for threads and foreshadowing and symbolism in a novel, and how I look for it in my own life. A few examples are:
  • I was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church (OCA), at a small, missionary congregation that met in a room of a mortuary. What a great metaphor of life coming out of death--being baptized in a green, plastic tub in a mortuary! Then there's a lot I could say about the Russian connection, but I'll leave it just at the metaphor of the physical baptism.
  • I am an only child. This, in a larger sense, is like a foreshadowing or metanarrative of isolation and loneliness. Alone-ness.
  • My big, loud singing voice that can make grown people weep (and not only because they wish they had earplugs..) that I refuse to share with a larger audience of people (leading worship doesn't count to me, since I don't consider it a performance). It's like a tangible symbol of this general trend I have of having trouble being in the spotlight--especially in a positive way.

I could go on, these are just a few random ones I could think of right off.

At first I thought, "Maybe that's weird to look at my life in such a literary way, and to be seeing all these plot devices in my own life story." Then I thought, it's not like symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphor, and thematic threads were created by novelists--rather, part of the reason novelists use them, and part of the reason they are effective, is that these serendipitous, "literary" moments happen in our lives all the time if we are just open to seeing them. And I wonder how involved God is in the whole thing--like, how much God is setting things up, or using certain "plot points", etc... Anyway, I rather like thinking of life in this literary, narrative way, and I wonder how much God delights in these literary moments, that I find so beautiful and thrilling; and I think about God's role in creating these moments.

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Sharing a Poem

I don't often buy books of poetry, even though I enjoy some poetry a great deal. In all honesty, I think it's because often they're these skinny, little paperback books that cost $15...and it just seems like a rip-off. I know, I know...it's not a rip-off...because it's art that someone poured their time and heart and soul into. But still, I just don't often buy books of poetry. However, I did buy a book of poetry recently: The Trouble With Poetry: And Other Poems by Billy Collins. And I bought it because of one specific poem that moved me so much that I wanted to give my money to support the book. And here is that poem, called Flock. Feel free to buy the book if you feel so moved. :)

It has been calculated that each copy of the
Gutenberg Bible...required the skins of 300 sheep.
-from an article on printing

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

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